By Charlene S. Mixa
Alpine Mountains and Ambiance
A 20,000 bottle wine cellar! A Master Sommelier selects special wines from 2,000 varieties. Wines artfully paired to compliment each course on the menu. Scenic courtyard views and the natural splendor of Aspen Mountain. All this and the full-flavored dishes of Chef Robert McCormick are at the Montagna restaurant in Aspen, Colorado’s Little Nell Hotel. Ultimate Aspen dining! Alpine mountains, a Forbes Four Star Award restaurant and elegant setting all blend beautifully.
Our first evening in Aspen is at award-winning Montagna restaurant. Featuring a European-influenced cuisine highlighted with local Colorado ingredients, our Prix Fixe dinner with wine pairings is a gourmet’s delight. The Master Sommelier Jonathan Pullis is dedicated to selecting the special and interesting wines from throughout the world.
Sparkling champagne is the first wine to prepare our palates. Dinner at Montagna is like a beautiful concert as each delectable course creates its own melody with the gracious wine accompaniment. Shawn, our waiter, provides excellent service as he assures all needs and desires for dinner are carefully achieved. From appetizers of chilled main lobster, hearts of palm, avocados, and pistachios to entrees of Columbia River Salmon and succulent Lamb, we savor these mouth watering delights. Each wine enhances the flavors of the delectable dish. The Master Sommelier’s passion for wine and matching it with each course is superb. Finishing with desserts of “Chocolates and Praline” and “Creamsicle” the evening, we toast fantastic dining at Montagna. A complete renovation will take place over the winter months, Montagna reopening in the spring of 2012 with an even more enticing menu.
Aspen conjures up images of rugged mountains covered with pure white snow, skiing, glitzy movie stars, and upscale shops and dining. For us it is a refreshing summer alpine retreat. We’ve visited in the winter but find the summer brings a new venture to this Alpine town. Unlike other resort towns in Colorado that were created for winter sports, Aspen is an old traditional town with a rich history. Sitting at the base of Aspen Mountain, the town blends old and new buildings with a wide array of shops, varied eateries, hotels, tree-line boulevards and spacious parks creating an inviting setting. Put on your walking shoes, because on foot is the best way to experience this dynamic bustling town. If shopping is your “bag”, Aspen offers a treasure of boutique shops and specialty stores, as well as superb art galleries. Personally, we enjoy strolling the streets and stopping for lunch on a garden terrace. Afterwards it is a relaxing walk to the John Denver Sanctuary along the river. This memorial features many of Denver’s songs carved into large granite stones. We find ourselves singing his magnificently worded, popular songs.
Take it to the Top! The Silver Queen Gondola takes us up Aspen Mountain to 11, 212 feet. Riding the gondola we have terrific views of Aspen until it disappears behind a mountain. At the top is sensational panoramic scenery. We see ski runs at Snowmass, Buttermilk, the valley and more of the Rocky Mountain Range. For the physically fit consider hiking up the mountain and taking the Gondola down. In the summer there are nature hikes and lots of FREE activities for kids at the mountain top.
Today is our outdoor adventure day. With a picnic lunch, we hop on the bus to Aspen Highlands (free), and then transfer to the Maroon Bells bus (fee). Having snowmobiled to Maroon Bells, we are excited about a summer visit. Our driver shares that “U” shaped valleys are where glaciers formed the mountains such as Maroon Bells and the “V” shaped canyons of river formed valleys, as the Grand Canyon. The Maroon Bells, surrounded by pristine National Forest lands, are the most photographed peaks in all of North America. Here we explore the glacial valley with fields of wildflowers while surrounded by 14,000 – foot peaks. Maroon Lake reflects the mirror images of the Maroon Bells in its waters. It’s a wonderful afternoon for exploring the numerous trails as each bend in the path presents a new scenic view of the Maroon Bells and the surrounding mountains. Go early as afternoon thunderstorms can easily spoil a visit.
Our evening of Colorado mountain fun begins with a four-wheel jeep tour into the high country. The Blazing Adventures Jeep picks us up at our hotel for our Sunset Dinner Excursion. Adam, our driver, blazes the trail up to Coney Glade on the Snowmass Ski Area. With thunderclouds looming, the skies open just as we take some photos of the spectacular view. We jump back in the jeep and Adam carefully traverses the mountain to the secluded and historic Burlingame log cabin. The pot belly stove warms the cabin as we snack on homemade appetizers while, Jim, the guitarist entertains us. No sunset tonight! Rain and even hail, don’t dampen our evening as Chef John and his team serve a hearty buffet dinner in the cabin. Hurrah, the rains pass! Our evening ends around a roaring campfire toasting marshmallows, making s’mores and singing songs.
A new day and new adventure! Snowmass Club Golf Course requires many rounds to conquer its traditional Irish links. We find it an awesome golf course that will challenge any golfer’s talent and patience. Forget altitude! The course twists around a Rocky Mountain landscape creating an infinity of playing possibilities. It plays like target golf.Precise shots are required to avoid native grasses, frightening bunkers and demanding greens. The greens are tiered, mounded or undulating. Thick rough, huge mounds and hillsides create a “bowl” setting for many greens. A fantastic, fun course to play, but it is not for the timid or weak of heart. Climbing down to the greens and back out is a cardio work out. A must play, just don’t take yourself too seriously. Snowmass Club Golf Course will take several rounds to learn its nuances. With five sets of tees, novices and pros alike are guaranteed an adventure. Limited public play opportunities are available after 1:00pm.
Accommodations in Aspen run the gamut from high end luxury condos to the most basic hotels. The newly renovated Hotel Aspen is stylish yet still affordable. Our third floor spacious King suite has a Jacuzzi on the outside deck offering great views of the mountains. Plush bedding, contemporary furnishings, rich wood floors, and bright window treatments all give a warm and fresh feel. We appreciate the wet bar with mini refrigerator and the refurbished bathroom. Extra touches are the iPod docking stations & DVD players, and Flat screen televisions. We opted for cool fresh mountain air rather than use the AC. As the General Manager, Jeff Bay states, “Nothing costs extra here, as is the case with many luxurious properties.” Wireless internet, parking, airport transportation, continental breakfast, and daily newspaper and ski storage lockers – all are free.
Our stay at the Hotel Aspen was terrific. Convenience is at the top of the list as once we parked our car we didn’t move it for our entire stay. Everything was in walking distance! The continental breakfast had a wide variety of hot and cold breakfast items and the family style tables encouraged guests to mix and mingle. Evenings after returning from dinner, we enjoy the warmth of the hot tub under the glittering clear mountain sky. Unique touches at the poolside courtyard are stylish Buddha beds, water features, and fire pits. The Hotel has a sister property across the street, the Molly Gibson, that even has some upscale junior suites with fireplaces and Jacuzzis. Just note there is no elevator, so taking the steps to the third floor counts as exercise. We agree, “Hotel Aspen is proud to offer a four-star experience at a three-star price.”
Aspen is an exciting, fun and alluring Alpine town in the midst of the great Rocky Mountains. It’s so much more than just a winter resort, check out all this fascinating and dynamic town offers in the summer.
If you go:
Blazing Adventures, P.O. Box 5552, Snowmass Village, CO 81615 800.282.7238 www.blazingadventures.com
Hotel Aspen, 101 W. Main Street (on the corner of Main & Garmisch), Aspen, CO; 800.527.7369; www.hotelaspen.com
Maroon Bells – US Forest Service; http://www.aspenchamber.org/what-to-do/trip-highlights/maroon-bells/
Montagna, The Little Nell, 675 E. Durant Avenue, Aspen, CO 81611; 888.843.6355;
Silver Queen Gondola; http://www.aspensnowmass.com/summer_rec/gondola.cfm
Snowmass Club, 0446 Clubhouse Drive, Snowmass Village, CO. 81615; 970.923.5700; www.snowmassclub.com